2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2–4, NKJV)
Trials are not pleasant. Adversity, difficulty, anxiety, and uncertainty test our faith in moments of trial. Trials will either provoke us to evil or discipline us for good. They do not remove our free will; trials present us with opportunities to choose faith over fear and patience over provocation. How is this possible? By maintaining this faith-perspective before and during trials: “Count it all joy.” Trials prove (test) our faith, exposing our vulnerabilities and strengths. Faith chooses to endure the trial steadfastly. Faith draws strength from the Lord in the hour of trial, instead of wavering in disbelief (Rom. 4:20). God has promised not to fail or forsake us (Heb. 13:5-6). And so, firm endurance fortifies and matures our faith, even as trials would overwhelm us. Joy enables us to endure. Joy turns trials into seedbeds from which mature faith grows. As trials come, may we be content to rely on the Lord while rejoicing in His promises and provisions (Jas. 1:5-8).
If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:18, NKJV)
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jno. 16:33). As they preached the gospel, Paul and Barnabas were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Peter said, “do not think it strange” when fiery trials happen to you because of your faith (1 Pet. 4:12). These statements do not suggest we earn our way to heaven. They explain being a faithful Christian brings you face to face with challenges and turmoil that require the effort and conviction of a faith to endure and prevail when they come. “Scarcely” is from a Greek word that means “with difficulty.” Luke used it in Acts 27:16 of securing the skiff with difficulty during a storm. He also used it in Acts 14:18 of the difficulty of restraining the mob from sacrificing to Paul and Barnabas. The righteous are saved, but not without difficulties that test our faith. Trials purge the dross from their faith and identify them as being unashamed to live for Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7; 4:16-17). On the other hand, the “ungodly and the sinner” will not appear in glory due to their lack of faith. They are unwilling to endure tribulations to enter the kingdom of God, preferring not to obey the gospel of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21–22, NKJV)
The gospel makes disciples. And, disciples need strengthening to “continue in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7). The reason for exhortation to continue in the faith is given in verse 22 – there are many tribulations through which disciples must pass to “enter the kingdom of God.” Would someone please explain why strengthening the souls of the disciples for these tribulations is necessary if their entrance into heaven is already settled? In other words, if the eternal inheritance of Christians cannot be jeopardized, then why exhort them to continue in the faith? Why the need for strength in the face of tribulations, if entrance into the eternal kingdom can never be endangered? The truth is we can become weak. It is possible for Christians to turn back to sin and no longer continue “in the faith” (2 Pet. 2:20-22; Gal. 5:7). Let us hear and heed the Spirit’s exhortation to “be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). You will face pressures as a disciple of Christ. Be brave, be strong. Your entrance into the eternal kingdom is certain as you “continue in the faith.”
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)
Early Christians faced threats, deprivation, imprisonment, violence and death for their faith (Hebrews 10:32-34). It may be hard for us to envision the blessedness of being persecuted. Yet, our perspective changes when the blessing of persecution is understood in the context of being citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Enduring persecution for the sake of righteousness produces patience and perfects faith (James 1:2-4). Devotion to things above will bring persecution, but it also helps the persecution seem as “light affliction” in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” to come (2 Corinthians 4:17). Because we trust His word, the Lord’s promise of eternal reward replaces the fear of persecution with confident hope (1 Peter 3:14). Jesus showed us the blessedness of suffering for what is right, and because of His suffering we obtain an eternal blessing (1 Peter 3:18; 2:19-24). Persecution is not seen as a blessing when viewed from a “this world” perspective. But, eyes of faith see the blessing it brings. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven will suffer for righteousness’ sake, and are blessed for it.
3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3–4, NKJV)
Christians “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Along with rejoicing in “having been justified by faith” and its spiritual blessings, we also learn to glory (boast, joy, rejoice) in tribulations as we view their beneficial results (verse 3). Our faith looks beyond present distress and its pain, uncertainty, trauma and trials, to the consummation of our hope. We understand (we know) that trouble borne out of being faithful to Christ produces steadfast endurance (perseverance). Do not be overwhelmed when trials test your faith, but “by patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). Patiently continuing to do God’s will despite tribulations produces “character” that is approved by God. Trustworthy dependability to keep doing the will of God is developed in your life by consistently enduring the distresses that test your faith (see James 1:2-4). The hope you have in Christ is enlivened and secured when your faith is genuine and when, by God’s grace, you are trustworthy to persevere through the temporary trials of life.
5 Do not trust in a friend; Do not put your confidence in a companion; Guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom. 6 For son dishonors father, daughter rises against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; A man’s enemies are the men of his own household. 7 Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me. (Micah 7:5–7, NKJV)
The sins of Israel had cause corruption throughout the land. Micah (and through him, the people) was counseled by God not to trust in a friend, a close companion, or even in his own family. There he would find enemies of truth and righteousness. Micah put His trust in God, who would hear his pleas, see his circumstances and save him in the evil day. Jesus drew from this passage in Matthew 10:34-39, teaches His disciples (and us) that to be worthy of Him we must love Him more than anyone, including our own lives. Family and friends are liable to forsake the right ways of the Lord and be opponents of God’s truth. But, Jesus never will. So, put your trust in Him and patiently endure the trials and temptations of life as you wait for His salvation (Rom. 13:11-14).
24 I said, “O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days; Your years are throughout all generations. 25 Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. 27 But You are the same, and Your years will have no end. 28 The children of Your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before You.” (Psalm 102:24–28, NKJV)
When spiritual enemies surround you, seeking your soul’s destruction, remember the eternal God who created the earth and the heavens. He continues forever, long after they perish. He is the One to trust for relief in the moment of trial. God’s unchanging nature assures He fulfills His eternal purposes for His servants and their children. He chastens His children through trials, to train and perfect our faith (Psalm 102:8-11; Hebrews 12:4-7). Still, He hears the cries of His people, and does not despise the prayers of those who set their hope on Him (Psalm 102:1-2, 17). His unending mercy abounds to His ceaseless praise (Psalm 102:18-22). The One who laid the foundations of the earth has established Zion (His church, Hebrews 12:22-23). He will establish you and sustain you through the temporary trials of the flesh, to deliver you to eternal glory.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:35–37, NKJV)
The flooding in Texas and Louisiana from hurricane Harvey has been unprecedented, with more than 50 inches of rain in the Houston area. Truly astonishing. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, and to all who continue to be impacted, as they face the tremendous work of rebuilding shattered lives. This unprecedented trial also produced unprecedented kindness, as officials, neighbors and strangers rushed to the rescue. For most, this was the first time they have ever lost so much, so fast. What began with force and fury, continued with unrelenting rain, that kept on falling, as the water kept rising. Trials are like that sometimes. They seem to never end. But, eventually, they do. The sun eventually came out from behind the clouds, but much work lies ahead. There are spiritual parallels: Trials may come on us when we do not expect them. When we are not fully prepared, they seem to sweep us away by a torrent of forces beyond our control. Yet, for Christians, trials purge our faith of its dross, purifying and strengthening us in the Lord (Jas. 1:2-4). “Weeping may endure for a night; but joy comes in the morning” (Psa. 30:5).
8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:8–9, NKJV)
We are commanded to be patient, even in the face of suffering, like the laborers whose wages were being withheld fraudulently (Jas. 5:4). The Lord of Hosts sees every injustice, and will right every wrong when He comes in judgment (2 Thess. 1:6-7). R. C. H. Lenski’s comments on verse 9 are worthy of careful consideration: “The verb does not mean ‘to murmur’ but ‘to groan’ (Rom. 8:23)…to groan against each other as though one can blame his distress on another. When one is full of complaint he is ready to grumble against even his best friends in an unreasonable way. To give way to such feelings invites judgment from the Lord. And the readers must know that the Judge is already standing before the door. He has risen and has come near. What if he opens the door and steps in as suddenly and unexpectedly as he has said he will and finds us impatient, groaning at each other in dissatisfaction instead of being patient and firm?” (The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James, 655). Strengthen your heart by being patient in the face of trials. Do not grumble, groan and complain against others; the Judge is standing at the door. When He judges others, He will also judge you and me. Let us all be ready, by being patient in trials (Jas. 1:2-4).
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, NKJV)
One little tidbit of internet inspiration I came across said, “God will cancel every trouble in your life.” That sounds comforting, but it is very unscriptural. God did not cancel every trouble in the life of Jesus, Job, Joseph, David, and many, many others. Today’s passage shows that God did not remove Paul’s fleshly ailment, but, He gave Paul the grace and strength to endure its pain and trouble. Rely on God’s strength to help you weather the trials and trouble of life. Trust and obey the Lord in times of trouble, and by His strength, you will prevail.